Tapes of Wrath 

Getting previews for the Fall 2002 TV season is almost like … work.

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Originally, this edition of The Only TV Column That Matters™ was going to be all about the HBO Sunday season premieres of The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Mind of the Married Man. Thing is, the Haughty Brush-Off network almost considered Salt Lake City Weekly—and, in turn, you highly intelligent Salt Lake City Weekly readers—statistically unworthy.

Flash back to a month ago, when I rang up HBO to inquire about the availability of preview tapes for this trio of programs: The most mega-hyped drama in TV history, a mildly funny Seinfeld knockoff and an obscure male-centric dramedy that even fans believed was canceled. Getting tapes from HBO had never been a problem in the past, but this time, something was up.

“Yes, you’re going to need to send us your newspaper’s readership and circulation numbers,” said the publicist’s assistant.

“What? You’ve never asked for that before,” I answered, struggling to maintain the cool expected of metropolitan TV journalists. “It’s a real newspaper, trust me.”

“They just want to know if it’s big enough for them to provide a preview tape,” she said, sounding a bit indifferent to the process herself. “Can you e-mail it to me?”

I did, hitting the “Send” button extra hard in a futile act of Don’t-Mess-With-Me-Sister electronic defiance. The tapes showed up a day after this week’s deadline.

Must have made my case: In the message, I pointed out to Ms. Assistant that City Weekly reaches a younger and hipper audience than either of Salt Lake’s daily newspapers; one run by an evil corporation, the other by the LDS church (po-tay-to, po-tah-to). The latter, whose circulation per issue is only slightly higher than City Weekly’s, boasts an audience that thinks CleanFlicks is the greatest entertainment development of the century and, à la Ned Flanders, is likely wired to cable/satellite systems with “over 230 channels locked out—sure doodily-do!” If I prevented a tape from going there, cool.

The regular ol’ broadcast networks, however, happily sent preview screeners of the now-gearing-up Fall 2002 TV season to the Tube Town offices months ago. Here’s the new stuff premiering this week:

Family Affair (The WB; Thursday, Sept. 12, 7 p.m.): Then again, sometimes you understand instantly why nets are occasionally reluctant to ship previews. A modern update of the ’60s sitcom about a swingin’ Manhattan bachelor and his English butler suddenly getting stuck with sickeningly cute 6-year-old twins? Ack! Good: Should enjoy a long afterlife on the ABC Family Channel … very soon. Bad: See previous.

Everwood (The WB; Monday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m.): Not an infomercial for an over-the-counter Viagra substitute, but the story of a big-city doctor (Treat Williams) who sets up practice in Everwood, Colorado (actually filmed in Ogden) after the death of his wife. Naturally, as soon as you arrive in the Mountain West, you have to grow a beard and start wearing flannel shirts—it’s the law. Good: Perfect for the 7th Heaven crowd. Bad: It’s like Billy Ray Cyrus’ Doc in reverse … weird.

8 Simple Rules (ABC; Tuesday, Sept. 17, 7 p.m.): Based on the book 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter and starring John Ritter and Katey Sagal as the parents of teen-girl hotties, it’s an anomaly: a watchable ABC sitcom. Good: Funnier than According to Jim, the network’s only recent comedy hit. Bad: Most invasive surgery videos are funnier than According to Jim.

Life With Bonnie (ABC; Tuesday, Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m.): Comic genius Bonnie Hunt in her third stab at a sitcom, this time as a working mom who hosts a cheesy local TV talk show—like 8 Simple Rules, it’s the rare ABC comedy that doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out with salad tongs. Good: Hunt has (and takes) plenty of opportunities to improv. Bad: Oh, she never gets a break …

Push, Nevada (ABC; Tuesday, Sept. 17, 8 p.m.): Ben Affleck’s Twin Peaks/X-Files mystery-thriller drama with a twist: Viewers can play along at home and possibly win a chunk of the show’s missing casino cash. Good: Comic and moody, but not Peaks-intense. Bad: Yes, ABC is now paying people to watch.

Cedric the Entertainer (Fox; Wednesday, Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m.): The last (and funniest) of the Original Kings of Comedy launches his own sketch-comedy series, complete with backstage bits and sexy dancing girls. Good: The first prime-time sketch series to get it right since In Living Color. Bad: That was what, 10 years ago?

Fastlane (Fox; Wednesday, Sept. 18, 8 p.m.): Charlie’s Angels director McG’s stupid-beyond-belief police action-fluffer, starring Peter Facinelli and Bill Bellamy as undercover cops posing as bling-bling playas, and Tiffany Thiessen … as … their … commanding … officer. Good: Uh … Bad: Where’re the salad tongs?

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